Monday, December 31, 2007

Innovation without a market

As part of my professional activity I meet quite a few people attempting various kinds of innovation. From engineers with a passion for how things could work better, to marketeers inspired by the seemingly boundless possibilities of new technologies, to operations types focusing on efficiency, to financiers approaching age old financial problems from new angles, they all try to offer something different. Their pursuits and motivations are as diverse as one can imagine. All too often though, they fall in the traps of:



  1. innovation for the sake of innovation


  2. innovation without clear boundaries and scope


  3. innovation based on untested ideas in uncertain markets


It's what I call the "banana sharpener syndrome", i.e. the elaborate engineering of a sophisticated solution to a problem that exists only for the creator of the solution. The name of the syndrome comes from an excellent piece of the Muppet Show embedded below.









At the end of the day there is a lot of creative energy that goes into unnecessary forms of innovation that could be saved and applied to something else if only there were fairly straightforward ways to discriminate between options. Aside from testing concepts and piloting with customers, innovators should also ponder the sustainability of an innovation, a criterion that will grow increasingly important in the years to come. Sutainability is about long term adoption and usage of an innovation; therefore it's about matching innovation to market and making sure the market keeps generating demand. Who needs a banana sharpener?



2 comments:

  1. I might say that you're thinking about a specific context, the "business oriented" one.
    I mean that the "banana sharpener syndrome" is USEFUL, because it is FUN for the maker. It's a way for people to express their passion without boundaries and that's necessary for the people, not necessarly for the business.
    I think that the reason behind that syndrome is related to the creative side of the human mind and could be impossible to be stopped. I might argue that in a working place where too many people are following this syndrome... maybe it's because they don't find any interest in the rest of their work. :)
    I just wanted to add this point of view that's not opposite to the one you've expressed above: it depends from the situation. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, I agree with you in that my post is specifically about business contexts or at least innovation with a business purpose. It is true that "crazy" innovation or innovation without clear applications or business benefits can be excellent fun for the people involved in the process and sometimes even yield some pretty surprising stuff that can be used in totally different contexts...
    My point is to be clear about what sort of animal we are talking about and perhaps avoid the sales pitch about the "burning problem" solved by... well, a "banana sharpener" of sorts.
    Thanks for your contribution that helps me think a bit further :-)

    ReplyDelete